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ELMA, IA - APRIL 28:  Hogs are raised on the farm of Gordon and Jeanine Lockie April 28, 2009 in Elma, Iowa.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) ELMA, IA - APRIL 28: Hogs are raised on the farm of Gordon and Jeanine Lockie April 28, 2009 in Elma, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

Animal rights group to sue pork farmers over … paperwork problems?

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) picked a fight with pig farmers Wednesday, announcing its intent to sue 51 pork producers over what it said was a failure to report discharges of ammonia into the environment.

But the National Pork Producers Council, a farmers’ trade group, told The Daily Caller that the animal rights group was taking “alleg[ed] … paperwork violations” and weaving them into a made-up environmental disaster.

And a food PR expert told TheDC that the move was calculated to drive up costs for farmers who produce bacon, ham and other animal proteins.

HSUS said its targets in Iowa, North Carolina and Oklahoma failed to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s reporting requirements for discharges of ammonia exceeding 100 pounds in a 24-hour period.

“All of the operations put on notice today exceed this requirement, and in some cases by vast amounts,” HSUS said in a press release. The group also said many of the farms it plans to sue are members of the pork trade group.

“It is important to point out that HSUS is not alleging environmental harm but rather paperwork violations of EPA’s emissions reporting rule,” the National Pork Producers Council said in a statement.

The episode has convinced some observers that the Humane Society of the United States’ environmental watch-dogging has a hidden purpose.

“The Humane Society of the United States has a practice of attacking American agriculture,” said Rick Berman, president of Berman and Company, a public relations firm that focuses of issues surrounding food politics.

The group’s animal activists, Berman told TheDC, are “seeking to increase the cost of food production involving animals.”

On its website, the Humane Society of the United States advocates for vegetarianism. Wayne Pacelle, its CEO, is a dietary vegan, and eats no animal products at all.

NPPC said its members’ emissions rates are still being evaluated by the EPA, making it difficult to accurately report. Its statement also noted confusion surrounding the initial 2009 law that required large-scale hog farms to report emissions rates.

“There was widespread confusion about it, with some states refusing to accept reports, one state claiming EPA notices to report emissions were an Internet hoax and EPA’s Region 4 office initially telling producers and states there was no reporting requirement,” the group said.

According to HSUS, the targets of its threatened lawsuits produce between 100 and 10,000 pounds of ammonia daily — a products of the “chemical breakdown of animal manure and urine.”

While the animal rights group’s legal claims focus on some farms’ lapsed reporting, its statement Wednesday blamed the farms for introducing new environmental hazards by housing pregnant pigs in crates that limit their mobility.

The pork trade group said it was reviewing the allegations of noncompliance.

The Maschhoffs, a Carlyle, Illinois network of pork producers, said it “prides itself on full compliance with all regulations including proper reporting of required environmental information.” The group said it was also reviewing the animal activists’ accusations.

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